First Impressions: Mario & Luigi RPG 3

Mario and Luigi return to the DS in their third humorous adventure.

Mario and Luigi have been to some pretty bizarre places, but none as weird as where they end up in Mario and Luigi RPG 3. You see, a mysterious epidemic is raging through the Mushroom Kingdom, causing people to inflate many times their normal size. The residents of the kingdom decided to unite in order to confront the disease, only to have their party crashed by a massive Bowser, who’s under the control by a mysterious villain, Gerakowitz. Out of nowhere, Bowser sucks everyone up into his mighty belly.

Now lost inside the mighty Bowser, Mario and Luigi must work together to try and escape Bowser’s stomach. Along the way, the dynamic duo will have plenty of help available since Bowser has not only sucked up Mario and Luigi, but also a wide array of citizens. When it’s all said and done, this is Mario and Luigi’s biggest adventure yet.

Much like Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, Mario and Luigi RPG 3 is played using both screens. The top screen displays the Koopa King as he adventures throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, whereas the bottom screen plays home to Mario and Luigi as they try and work their way out of Bowser’s stomach.

The two different sides of the quest have effects on each other. For example, Mario and Luigi can pinch nerves inside Bowser’s body to send him into a frenzy or touch a muscle to power-up the Koopa King. You see, even though Bowser sucked Mario and Luigi up, as well as a bunch of other Mushroom Kingdom residents, he actually has no idea about what is happening inside him!

Bowser’s gameplay can best be described as an action RPG. Players move Bowser around in an over-head perspective, using his trademark flame breathe to clear trees and punching blocks and other obstacles to open new paths.

Mario and Luigi, on the other hand, operate a little differently. For starters, the game switches to side scrolling as you control both characters simultaneously. Both characters will respond to your D-pad inputs, but Mario and Luigi each have their own unique attack button. Some of the commands at their disposal are jumping, which can be used to evade enemies and hit blocks to collect coins, and an attack that uses their hammers to smash obstacles.

For those new to the series, the battle system is turn-based and utilizes timed hits similar to the Paper Mario series and Super Mario RPG. Players use precise timing to inflict extra damage as well as completely block or avoid enemy attacks. Enemies use visual cues to show the player whether they're going to attack either Mario or Luigi as well as what attack they're going to perform. It's a fantastic system that requires much more player interaction than your average turn-based RPG.

Since Bowser’s all alone on the top screen, he gets to take advantage of both attack buttons. When attacking enemies, they’re used to breathe flames at the enemy as well as punch them. While defending himself, the buttons make Bowser duck his shell to avoid projectiles from above whereas he’ll just punch enemies coming directly at him.

The game also includes touch screen controls this time around. On the bottom screen, Mario and Luigi will have to deflect certain attacks using the stylus. When Bowser fights on top, every so often the DS will be flipped sideways into "book mode," with Bowser on the touch screen and the enemy on the right. Players then use the stylus to direct his flames and repel enemies. You might even judge the strength of Bowser's flame by how long you can blow into the microphone.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga was one of the best Game Boy Advance game released in North America and its sequel, Partners in Time, claimed the same spot on the DS. Both titles raised the bar for portable RPGs and Mario and Luigi 3 is no exception. It may not be the typical Mario platformer we all know and love, but hey, the game still offers plenty of fun. The game has already shattered the lifetime sales of its predecessors in Japan, where it has gone on to sell over 600,000 units. We've only spent as short time with the game but we can tell you that it's shaping up to be the best Mario & Luigi adventure to date, and all being well, western gamers will have it in their hands before 2009 draws to a close.